How to Save Time and Money Using Wi-Fi On an iPhone

iPhone with metaphorical blocks floating above it for wifi, music, etc.

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An Apple iPhone connects to the internet automatically from almost anywhere using a cellular network. iPhones also contain a built-in Wi-Fi antenna in order to connect to Wi-Fi. Although some setup is required, using iPhone Wi-Fi connections provides a couple of benefits:

  • Time savings: Wi-Fi provides much higher network bandwidth than the cellular protocols supported by iPhone (either EDGE, an enhanced form of GPRS or 3G). That typically means noticeably faster app downloads and browsing.
  • Cost savings: Any network traffic generated while the iPhone is connected via Wi-Fi does not count toward monthly data plan quotas.

Monitoring Network Connections on the iPhone

The top left corner of an iPhone's screen displays several icons indicating its network status:

  • Connection strength: Between one and four bars are displayed to indicate wireless signal strength detected by iPhone for the current connection (either Wi-Fi or cellular).
  • Cellular provider: The name of the cell provider (e.g., AT&T) is shown next to the connection strength (even when iPhone is connected to Wi-Fi).
  • Connection type: The type of network connection shown next to the provider name can be either "LTE", "3G", or Wi-Fi (designated by a graphic of three curved lines).

An iPhone will automatically switch from the cellular connection when it successfully makes a Wi-Fi connection. Likewise, it will revert back to cellular connectivity if the Wi-Fi link is disconnected by the user or suddenly drops. A user should check their connection type periodically to ensure they are connected to Wi-Fi when expected.

Connecting iPhone to a Wi-Fi Network

The iPhone Settings app contains a Wi-Fi section for managing connections to these networks. First, the Wi-Fi slider in this section must be changed from "Off" to "On." Next, one or more networks must be configured by selecting the "Other…" option under "Choose a Network… ." These parameters must be entered to enable iPhone to recognize a new Wi-Fi network:

  • Name: The public name (SSID) of the Wi-Fi network
  • Security: The hotspot's network encryption type (WEP, WPA or WPA Enterprise, WPA2 or WPA2 Enterprise)
  • Password: The network encryption key

Finally, a configured network listed under "Choose a Network…" must be selected for iPhone to associate to it. iPhone automatically connects to the first Wi-Fi network in the list it finds unless the "Ask to Join Networks" slider is moved from "Off" to "On." Users can also select any network in the list to manually initiate a connection.

Making iPhone Forget Wi-Fi Networks

To remove a previously configured Wi-Fi network so that iPhone no longer attempts auto-connecting to it or remembers it, tap the info button (it looks like a lowercase "i" in a circle) associated with its entry in the Wi-Fi list and then tap Forget This Network.

Restricting iPhone Apps to Use Wi-Fi Only

Some iPhone apps, particularly those that stream video and audio, generate relatively high amounts of network traffic. Because iPhone automatically reverts to the phone network when a Wi-Fi connection is lost, a person can quickly consume their monthly cellular data plan without realizing it.

To guard against unwanted cellular data consumption, many high-bandwidth apps include an option to restrict their network traffic to Wi-Fi only. Consider setting this option if available on frequently-used apps.

Additional settings on iPhone allow cellular access itself to be restricted while looking for a Wi-Fi network to join. In the Settings app, under General > Network, slide Cellular Data from Off to disable cellular network connections across all apps. Those who travel internationally should also keep the Data Roaming slider set to Off whenever possible to prevent unwanted charges.

Setting Up an iPhone Personal Hotspot

The Set Up Personal Hotspot button under Settings > General > Network allows Wi-Fi to be configured as a Wi-Fi router. Using this feature requires subscribing to a provider data plan with that support and also incurs additional monthly charges. Note also this feature utilizes Wi-Fi only for local device connections and relies on slower cellular connections for internet connectivity. However, the cost of using your iPhone as a hotspot may be lower than available alternatives, hence, net savings in some situations such as in hotels or airports where hotspots can be expensive.